Journey to the Edge of Space

Journey to the Edge of Space

Commercial human space flight is the topic of the day, but what about commercial human flight to the edge of space — a jump from a very high altitude balloon.

At some point this year, aeronaut Felix Baumgartner, the first person to cross the English Channel on a carbon wing, will attempt to free fall out of a stratospheric balloon at a height of 36 km, potentially becoming the first human to break the speed of sound.

As part of the Red Bull Stratos initiative, Baumgartner will challenge three additional records:

  • freefall altitude (the equivalent of four times the cruising altitude of commercial airplanes)
  • human piloted balloon flight altitude (current record is 113,740 feet)
  • longest freefall duration (expected to last approximately 5 minutes and 35 seconds)

According to the initiative’s website, this “mission to the edge of space will attempt to transcend human limits that have existed for 50 years.” But the goal goes beyond just making it into the record books. If Baumgartner is successful (there is the possibility he may not survive), important medical and scientific information is expected to come out of this experiment, with benefits to the future of human activities in space.

One probable offshoot cited by the event’s sponsors is the development of “next generation of aerospace crew protective equipment,” which may prove useful for the development of human-rated space vehicles for travel to low Earth orbit. The development of the balloon, pressure suit, ascent capsule, and retrieval system required for the mission may also yield insights into future aerospace technologies.

The exact date or location of the jump has not been announced.

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